Sometimes, as members of the church, we desire to help but don’t know where to start. In this article in today’s Meridian Magazine, author Tiffany Fletcher shares some dos and don’ts of what ward members can do to rally around families who bear the weight of mental illness in their home:
• Educate yourself on their particular mental illness. It is important to accept that the illness is real. Do your research, learn the signs and symptoms so that you can make an educated decision on how to help them.
• Help them feel safe. Be understanding and let them know you care and want to help. When they feel that you truly love them, they will feel safe to ask for the help they need.
• Help the family stay active in the Church. Invite them to activities or family home evening. Make them feel that they are a part of the ward, not a family that everyone is trying to avoid. If members are too ill to make it to church each week, visit them in their home, record the lessons for them, or bring handouts from the teacher. By doing these things, you are allowing the family to feel accepted and loved.
• Offer the family practical support. Cooking dinner, helping with housework once a week, offering to run errands, tending their children, or even just calling them on the phone once a week will show them that you care.
• Provide spiritual support. Help them to feel the spirit and the hope that comes from feeling God’s love for them. He will help carry the burden for them and for you.
• Don’t ignore or shy away from a family struggling with mental illness. Most of us fear what we do not know. We see people as “different” and shy away from them because of those differences. If we truly saw them as God does, we would do all we could to help them, just as the Savior ministered to the sick while he lived upon the earth.
• Don’t make them feel like a charity case. Everyone wants to feel genuine love and concern. If they feel you are helping them because you think you have to, they will not feel safe, and it will be harder to get through their protective wall the next time someone tries.
• Don’t assume they are comfortable with their circumstances and that they don’t want or need your help. When I was young, our home was a catastrophe—not because we liked it that way but because we didn’t know how to fix it.
There are many people with mental illness who are living happy and productive lives because they have a support system. They have family and friends who help carry the load when it’s needed. As loving ward members, we can become that support system for families who suffer within our ward boundaries. Through understanding, compassion, and love, we can truly be a light in the darkness for families who suffer with mental illness, bringing them the hope and peace that comes from feeling God’s love through our efforts.